Garland Special Events Center
The Garland Independent School District (GISD) isn't your ordinary school district.
"The school district is one of the largest in the state with about 7,500 employees, 65,000 students, probably the largest organization in the northeastern metroplex of Dallas," explained Tim Mabe, general manager of the district's new Special Events Center.
So it's no surprise that the Special Events Center is also way beyond average. With a distinctive, modern design, the facility looks more like an energetic performance hall than any typical school district fieldhouse. Plus, it serves double duty.
The 190,000-square-foot multi-use building allows the district to host high school convocations, graduations, sports events, concerts and teacher in-service activities, and national and regional sports tournaments. But it's also open to the community for local activities. It's already hosted a family expo, concerts, basketball tournaments, corporate rollouts, cheerleading competitions and an agricultural show.
"The public appreciates having a venue like this right in their community-the closest before was in Dallas," Mabe remarked.
The idea for this combined facility came from the district's chief administrator Dr. Curtis Culwell.
"I've been doing this for about 30 years," Mabe said. "When I was approached about this project, for a school district to own a public facility, my eyebrows started arching, but it has worked just remarkably."
Flexibility of space has been key. Jess Corrigan, principal and senior vice president of HKS Inc., the Dallas-based architectural firm that designed the facility, describes its significant features: "A 'half-house' curtain can be used to make the venue smaller and more intimate when needed. The event floor is sized to accommodate a hockey-sized ice rink if desired," he said. "Access from the conference center to the event floor is easily accomplished by a pedestrian ramp for trade shows. A full kitchen was built to provide food service for seated dinners in the conference center or the event floor for larger events. Suites were built around the concourse to provide facilities for special events and private functions as well as host visiting administrations, and the building is set up for full television production."
As the facility was approved through a tax bond, the district administrators knew they had to spend the dollars wisely.
"Its flexibility makes it a cost-effective facility for taxpayers," Culwell said. While school district events are hosted for free, operating costs are offset by profits from public events, and the facility has already exceeded financial expectations.
"The first year for our operation really kind of blew us all away," Mabe said. "We went in with moderately conservative projections with over half a million dollars in revenue and 400-some events
in the first year-and we pretty much doubled that in the first year."
Taxpayers are thrilled with the facility too, both for its practical use and its aesthetics.
"We wanted to create an icon for the school district and a sense of place for the community," Corrigan said. "The events that happen here are milestones in people's lives. As such, they remember where they happened, and we wanted to give them a strong image to remember."
To achieve that, the design team used large expanses of glass to allow natural daylight into the concourses, as well as to create a visual connection for passersby. A curved front façade and sloped metal roof are designed to parallel the curve of the neighboring street, while multiple overlapping grids create symmetry and orient the building to the north and south.
The building's visual impact is enhanced by a Color Kinetics LED lighting system that displays a variation of multicolored lights inside and outside.
"Since it opened, people continue to line the building's public street to view the lights," said Dan Phillips, project designer for HKS. "The Color Kinetics system can host red, white and blue lighting displays for the Fourth of July, or red and green to commemorate the holiday season."
Even with such elements, the building maintained its limited budget through some architectural techniques.
"We used the natural topography to our advantage to try to minimize drainage costs, and balanced the site using the slope for the seating bowl and different entry levels where we could," Corrigan explained. "The building form, while dramatic, is actually a simple shape. Its structural pieces have repetition, making it less expensive than it might have been, while still achieving a dynamic image for the community."
Corrigan considers his firm "lucky to have a client that had the vision to build this kind of facility and the confidence to build something other than a 'safe' brick box."
It seems that the Garland school district has gone straight to the top of the class.